By Rathindra Kuruwita in Jaffna
The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) sessions in Jaffna were a stark contrast to those held in Colombo. While the gallantry of the security forces, commendability of the government’s attempts at rehabilitation and resettlement and the importance of tri-lingual education for better understanding policy dominate the Colombo sessions, hostility, hundreds of mothers and widows cornering the commissioners to complain about lost family members and accusations of colonizationthe foremost features of Jaffna sessions.
The mistrust, discontent and anger of the ordinary citizens were shared by Jaffna intellectuals who gave evidence on November 12, accused the government of entrusting Tamil ministers of menial portfolios like law and welfare. When the panel mentioned late Lakshman Kadiragamar a former lecturer of the Jaffna University quipped back ‘he was never popular with the Tamils’.
The LLRC began taking submissions from November 11, and nearly 1000 individuals had come forward to hand over submissions in the first two days. The Commissioners visited Ariyalai and Kopai on the first day while another session was held in Alavetti, Sithankerney, Jaffna Kachcheri and Karainagar on the second day. During both days, the majority of the witnesses asked the LLRC Commissioners to help them find their sons and daughters who have disappeared during the latter part of Ealam War IV.
1000 tales of loss
During the session in Ariyalai, many witnesses were present at the meeting by 7 am and waited till 7pm to give evidence. Most of the stories have a similar story line, sudden abductions by white vans if the incident occurred in an area not directly affected by the Ealam War IV or families splitting up on their way to enter Army controlled areas.
Many accuse the Army and the EPDP of arresting or abducting family members and complain about lukewarm attitude of the authorities in handling of such complaints. The slow reaction of the authorities add to the Tamil peoples suspicion of the security forces and their allies.
Nitiyanandan Sivarubi of Alavetti told the Commission that her husband was abducted on July, 15, 2007 allegedly by army personnel travelling in a white van. She added that two day before the abduction that Army personnel have questioned her husband at the market.
“They have asked him whether he is a LTTE cadre and he has denied saying that he married and is the father of five. That’s why we think he may have been arrested by the army, so please try to help me find him,” she implored the Commissioners who probed deeply into the matter only to discover that a third party pretending to be attached to the Defense Ministry has taken Rs. 200, 000 each from seven such families promising the release of detainees.
“Few months after the abduction the Grama Niladari came and gave me the number of ‘Major Selan’ who could help me arrange the release of my husband. Six other families also contacted Major Selan who demanded Rs 200, 000 to secure the release of our loved once and we gave money to an individual who disappeared from the face of the earth after that,” she said.
Balachandran Annalakshmi was another person who paid Rs 200, 000 to save her brother, Ayyasami Shanmugamalei, who she alleged was abducted by the EPDP. She added that he went to the kovil for the pooja and was abducted by an EPDP cadre named Arivu. Clutching at straws her family also eked out the money that they thought would secure Ayyasami’s freedom.
Commissioners pledged that they would inform the defense secretary and the military establishment about such individuals who operate through/with the supports of state administrators.
Wives of LTTE leaders
Meanwhile, several mothers and widows of former LTTE cadres and leaders also appeared before the commissioners to seek assistance in determining whether they are dead or alive. Wives of Puthuvai Raththinathurai, Head of LTTE’s cultural wing, Yogaratnam Yogi, LTTE military advisor in Vanni and Vijidaran, Deputy of LTTE Political Chief Nadesan appeared before the LLRC to request the commissioners to tell them how their husbands met their ends.
“At Pudumatalan, I was injured by shells fire and I was taken away by the ICRC in May, 2009. After the end of the war, my husband who was Nadesan’s deputy surrendered to the army at Omanthei. I have no news of him ever since and I hear that all the political wing leaders were killed. I don’t know what to believe, can you please tell me whether he is dead or alive,” asked R. Arivoli, Vijidaran’s wife.
In almost all the sessions, the commissioners were not able to listen to all who had lost their family members and had to request the people to hand over their written submissions to the LLRC Secretariat. The extent of the scale of disappearances can be gauged by the fact that over 350 individuals in Sithankerney, which only has 3500 families, were gathered to complain about the loss of family members. Commissioner WMGS Palihakkara had to meet over 300 women who were determined to talk to a commissioner about the disappearance of their family members. Overall in the first two days, over 1000 such requests were submitted in areas of Jaffna which felt relatively little impact of the Ealam War IV.
Another main complaint was resettlement and ownership of land. This has been one of the much discussed topics of the LLRC and an issue of contention between all three main communities. While Muslim and Sinhala communities who were expelled by the LTTE want to return, Tamil community leaders complain that priority should always be given to the Tamils.
A large number of people who had formed societies to press for their issues told the Commissioners that the resettlement process in the High Security Zones (HSZ) were painstakingly slow despite the assurances given by President Rajapaksa and his brother Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Gerald Yesudasan, Chairman of the Maruthankerny Fishermen’s Cooperative told the LLRC that although the government had claimed some areas of the Jaffna HSZ has been relaxed for resettlement the military officers are refusing them entry into the area. He added that there are no mines in the area where he originally comes from.
“We can’t even fish in our traditional fishing grounds and we have to move into other areas and the fisherman of those areas don’t like it, for obvious reasons. On one hand the government said it will relax the HSZ but their ground level administrators refuse to let us near our own homes,” he said.
Muttuthumai Wenayagamurthi, Chairman of the Displaced Association of Vel North requested the LLRC to allow them access to their traditional places of worship. He added that a large number of people are worried that the gods might punish them for not carrying out the prescribed rituals. Although Vel North area is cleared, the ground level military commander has only given them permission to visit the Kovil only once a year.
“We are not allowed to go near the temple but the Army has allowed other vandals to enter our villages and destroy houses and temples. When the owners can’t go in, why is the army allowing others to enter the area?” they quipped.
The much publicized return of 100 Sinhalese families were criticized by many individuals who claim that priority in the resettlement process should be given to the Tamils. The Sinhala families from the South are now camping in a state land in Nawatikudi. Government Agent of Jaffna, Emelda Shukumar told the aggravated citizens that these people have not been resettled yet and the administrators are waiting for the orders of higher ups.
The LLRC extended its tenure by another six months in order to accommodate ever growing numbers of individuals willing to testify before them. An important step considering the response from Jaffna residents which indicate at the troubling undercurrents of discontent and mistrust which flow beneath the fa‡ade of alleged progress made in winning the hearts and minds of the Tamils. COURTESY:LAKBIMA NEWS